p.s. from the query wars

Think about the difference between the response detailed here: http://theswivet.blogspot.com/2008/05/lessons-in-how-to-never-get-agent-part.html

And this one in my own inbox:
“Thank you for your response.
It was a pleasure to contact you. Please allow me to wish you continued success in your endeavours.”

If you feel that you want to reply to a response, please use the 2nd method and not the first. So far this weekend I have one of the former, though not nearly as bad as the one on The Swivet, but it did explain a lot to me about what I don’t understand about the publishing business and my own short-sightedness. I hope the author felt better afterwards. Luckily, I also got several similar to the latter so the taste in my mouth is just the teensiest bit sour, and I will continue reading queries with optimism and trying not to anticipate the inevitable (hopefully, rare) bad apple in the barrel.

Also: queries sent via the MySpace page will not get responses. Just saying it out loud. Submission guidelines are here.

29 responses to “p.s. from the query wars

  1. http://www.rejectioncollection.com has given me a taste for the attitudes that agents and editors face. I’ve always been completely bemused by writers who take ‘I liked it, but not enough to take it on – please send me your next piece’ as an insult…

  2. Wow.
    You know, one of my goals is to have the experience of rejecting my material be the sort of thing that flows right out of an agent/editor’s memory, so that the next time I send something they don’t immediately think, “Oh no. Please no.”

  3. I don’t know if it makes you feel better or worse, but when I was in HR, we saw our own versions of letters like that. “You’re terrible people for not hiring me; too bad you don’t know what you’re missing; etc.”
    As though they think after threats and insults we’re going to turn around and say, “Oh, you’re right. Well, let me send the hiring paperwork right over!”

    • I get that as an instructor in a vocational school – students who sleep through class, cheat on their practical work and barely pass their exams are then shocked when I won’t recommend that my company then hire them…

      • Some people have this sense of entitlement completely disassociated with the realities of their behavior. I feel bad for them, because they must be confused, frustrated, and unhappy, but I do wish they would stop sending nasty notes.

    • The world is full of examples like that one. There are also the men get verbally abusive when you reject their amorous advances (as if, yeah, I love it when you call me an idiot; sure, I’ll go out with you after all).
      There’s an interesting blog entry over at Science Blogs about the tendency in Human males to make Type I errors (i.e., false positives).
      (Sorry for the non sequitar. It would take too long to go into how all of these ideas are connected. Please just jump across this chasm with me…. πŸ™‚
      I was wondering if any of these letters ever come from women?
      Not meaning to bash the generally taller half of the species… just thinking that there might actually be an evolutionary explanation here. (Not an excuse; just an explanation.)

  4. First, the person’s response to rejection is inappropriate. No doubt about it.
    But, why is it so difficult for agents to admit that they are making a judgment with each rejection?
    The agent has made a judgment that the work isn’t something he/she wants to represent. So, saying that “it’s not a judgment of you and your work” isn’t entirely true. Judging – that’s what agents do. Embrace it, my dears. πŸ˜‰
    Now, the other side of the coin — think about all those poor agents and publishers over whose desks “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” passed.
    I seriously doubt that there’s an agent alive who thinks the method she uses is infallible – but it’s the best there is considering the business.
    And we writers need to embrace that, too.

    • But it’s not a moral judgment. It’s just “I don’t think this is something I could represent to our mutual profit.” Different sort of “judging” when it’s not “Your writing sucks and you suck and your projects will suck to the umpteenth word-count generation.”
      Or so I’d say.

      • Did my post imply that I don’t understand that distinction? Sorry if it did. πŸ™‚
        The person in Swivet said “we’re not judging you or your work.” I was responding to that. Denying that it’s not judging is nonsensical, regardless of what flavor of judgment it is.
        I don’t understand the tendency to shy away from the nature of the work. Any more than I understand why writers want to pretend that there’s no judging going on. It’s the nature of the business – judging and being judged.
        And I don’t think it’s necessary to deny that sometimes it truly is a judgment that the person’s work sucks and sucks to the umpteenth word count. (And thank you, dear agents, for being too kind and tactful to actually say that!)
        I’m convinced that the majority of what agents see falls squarely into that category (i.e., majorly sucklicious).
        You see, I have to be convinced that the majority is garbage — so I can continue to believe that my own stuff will rise above the stink. πŸ˜‰
        And sometimes it is a judgement that the person is a clueless moron who ought to get a life. Aren’t we all forming opinions about that person whose rejection/rejection letter is now posted for the world to see? Aren’t we all judging that person as an idiot?
        And again, thank you, dear agents, for exercising more than your share of patience and restraint!

        • *points down* Yes, sorry, I fear I got confused where “judging” had come into it. Usually when I hear the term, it’s more in the context of “Agent/Editor thinks writing is flawed” getting confuzzled into the concept of “OH NO! I am JUDGED and found WANTING! ANGST!”
          I suspect that in any given query where the author is at least trying to be sane, the agents don’t judge the author — probably don’t really even notice the author enough to form a judgment there. They judge the work, but — as you know! — that’s not the same thing.
          (Of course — as you probably know, too, heh — it sometimes helps to remind oneself of that. *beth gives a wry grin*)

        • No, deciding that the work is not something I want to represent is not the same as a value judgment declaring that your work is not publishable.
          I routinely reject queries for middle grade novels because I don’t represent them. That certainly doesn’t mean I didn’t think the writing was any good.
          Yes, sometimes I think the writing is truly awful. But even something that I think is truly awful may appeal to another agent somewhere, so my rejecting it is truthfully only saying that “Your work is not right for me.” Period.

          • I did not say that deciding that a work is not something you want to represent *is* the same as a value judgment stating that the work is unpublishable.
            My point is simple. In saying a work is not right for you, you have a made a judgment that it is not right for you to represent. Call it whatever you want, but you’ve made a judgment. I mean no more than that.
            To contend that judgment isn’t involved — well, I don’t understand that notion. Thirty years in business taught me (among other things) that any business is about judgment – this is a business, is it not? Those with better judgment are the winners.
            I don’t understand this notion that agents and publishers aren’t forming judgments to make their decisions. And I don’t understand the reluctance to call it what it is.
            To be sure, there’s not much an author should read into a simple “it doesn’t work for me” rejection, other than infallible and laudable politeness.

    • I was puzzled by your response until I realized you were referring to something in the Swivet article and not in my own post. I think agents tend to say they it’s not a judgement because that has negative connotation to a lot of people (e.g. judgemental). It’s not a judgement. It’s a decision. Those aren’t always the same thing.

      • Indeed, my apologies for not being clear. Indeed, I clicked through the link… and then came back here.
        With respect, decisions are made using one’s judgment. Especially in this arena where one’s data is, by necessity, quite imcomplete.
        I think it’s strange that our (American) society has come to the point where we deny that we are all judgmental. It’s how Humans are wired – to make judgments based on limited data. To infer things about our world. We do it a million times a day. We judge people based on how they dress, how they smile, how they smell. How they drive.
        Why do we find the notion of using our judgment to be so negative? Instead of running away from the notion, I submit that we should embrace it. And by embracing it, inspire ourselves to do a better job at making those judgments. Inspire ourselves to present ourselves in a way that we’ll be judged more favorably.
        Oh dear me – I think I’ve gone off topic into social commentary. Apologies… πŸ˜‰

      • Exactly! Well said.

  5. Since it’s pretty obvious which [redacted] industry the lovely responder came from, of course now I’m wondering who it is. πŸ˜‰
    Some people seriously need to be bashed upside the head with the clue bat repeatedly.

    • Whatever this person tried to accomplish, they definitely ensured that we’ll never find their book in a bookstore. Somehow I’m wondering if this person is into self-publishing to marvel at their own genius?
      *shakes head*

  6. Jennifer,
    Someone inferred that you don’t know about the industry that you’ve been working in for this long? Lol. Obviously they don’t know your track record. Where’s the clue gun?
    I don’t understand why some people are so nasty after receiving a rejection from an agent. You have to have really thick skin to be a published author. If someone can’t even take a rejection, then they’re in for a very rude awakening.

  7. Holy crap. Just imagine how much that author could have been producing if he/she had turned that bitter energy into something productive.

  8. I’m curious though, do agents and or editors want a respectful response to rejection? (Ooohhh… Alliteration.)
    While I would relish (or pickle) the chance to show how gracious and graceful I am with a polite ‘thank you anyway’ or what have you, I just figured it was a waste of your time. Am I off on that?

  9. p.s. from the query wars
    It seems like you’re right up there with all the other agents. That is, you get your share of missives that seem to be the internet equivalent of letters written with crayon.

  10. gender
    Why do so many women assume every nasty letter must be from a male? When is the last time you drove a car and looked behind you to see if the asshole a foot from your bumper is male or female?
    Oh, yeah, if we get a rejection is it ok for us to sulk around the agent’s blog? Or should we just vaporize?

    • Re: gender
      Well… I didn’t assume a gender in this case and I think only one person above did, so I’m not sure that’d qualify as “so many” (though it turns out I actually know the writer was male because I got a similar response a couple weeks ago and the reference to ESP and a few other choice phrases leads me to believe it’s the same individual).
      As to why so many women assume that people who respond like this are male… that’s a whole ‘nother issue and more of a social psychology one than anything else.
      re: your other question, I know there are many people who read and comment here that I have responded to in the past without making a request for submission. It could be that we’ll work together down the road. That’s certainly happened before, so I’d say everyone is welcome to participate (as long as they don’t do it like the person in the Swivet post).

  11. Holy moly! And said agent then thanks his/her lucky stars that he/she did not have the misfortune to sign someone who is so obviously unbalanced.
    I can honestly say that I have many times wished the rejections offered me something — anything to work on. But OMG!
    A standard “we didn’t feel you were right for the position” letter which I sent out at my day job recently earned a rude response. The person spent a half a page telling us about a new job she’d gotten, how she’d earned the new company a half-million-dollar grant already and basically told us it was our loss. The HR head’s response? “Gosh I’m glad we didn’t hire her. Remind me to put her on the list.” The list is people we will never consider under any circumstances. She didn’t just burn that bridge, she blew it to smithereens.

  12. Oh, and one more thought on the Swivet letter. Did any one besides me notice that Spielberg doesn’t belong in that example? I mean, yeah he writes screen plays, in some cases fantastic ones, but that’s like saying that since both apples and oranges are fruits, they are alike. Not only was the writer rude, but he/she didn’t do their homework. It is my humble opinion that to be a novelist, one must read novels.

  13. Re: gender
    In this case, the letter writer WAS male.
    I tried to leave out the gender in my post, but yes, he was a “he”.

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